Groups Sue National Marine Fisheries Service to Protect Loggerhead Sea Turtles

Date: December 21, 2009
Contact: Marydele Donnelly
(352) 373-6441

Tallahassee, Fla, Fla. – Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC), along with five other conservation groups, went back to court today in their continuing battle to protect imperiled sea turtles from death and injury in the Gulf of Mexico bottom longline fishery.

The conservation groups say that the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) latest assessment of the fishery’s impact on loggerhead sea turtles is based on incomplete science and that new regulatory measures will fall short of giving the species the protection it needs to survive and recover.

Bottom longline fisheries use hundreds or even thousands of baited hooks along miles of fishing lines that stretch down to the reef and Gulf floor. The fishing hooks target species like grouper, tilefish and sharks, but also often catch other fish and wildlife, including endangered and threatened sea turtles. Injuries from these hooks affect a sea turtle’s ability to feed, swim, avoid predators and reproduce. Many times the turtles drown or die soon after being released because of the extreme physiological stress.

These same conservation groups had previously filed lawsuit in April, which contended that NMFS was required to close the bottom longline fishery and address the new data on sea turtle capture in a new biological opinion. The new biological opinion, released in October, would allow it to injure or kill six to seven hundred loggerheads every three years – more than seven times as many as the bottom longline fishery vessels were allowed to capture or kill under the previous plan.

“We have major concerns about the agency’s new biological opinion, such as the omission of detailed information about the presence of turtles in the fishing area year-round. The agency has no basis for thinking loggerheads are not currently at substantial risk from this and other fisheries,” said Marydele Donnelly, a biologist with the Caribbean Conservation Corporation.

The new lawsuit challenges the agency’s new biological opinion as unlawful and incomplete. Conservation groups charge that NMFS omitted important new science from its analysis and failed to back up its flawed finding that the bottom longline fishery would not harm the loggerhead sea turtles’ chances at survival and recovery.

NMFS’s 2009 Loggerhead Review Team issued a report in August finding that loggerheads are in danger of extinction. The report also found that capture by vessels in commercial fisheries is a primary threat to the loggerhead population. Loggerhead nesting in Florida has declined by over 40 percent over the past decade, with 2009 the fourth lowest nesting year recorded.

“All evidence points to the fact fisheries are the smoking gun in the decline of the loggerhead sea turtle,” said Donnelly. “The Obama Administration needs to restore good science to decision-making by NMFS, and it needs to do this now.”

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The Sea Turtle Conservancy, formerly known as the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, is a not-for-profit, 501(c)3 organization based in Florida with offices and projects in several other locations. The Sea Turtle Conservancy is the oldest and most accomplished sea turtle organization in the world. Since its founding in 1959, the Sea Turtle Conservancy’s work has greatly improved the survival outlook for several species of sea turtles. The Sea Turtle Conservancy has as its mission the protection of sea turtles and the habitats upon which they depend. To achieve its mission, the Sea Turtle Conservancy uses research, habitat protection, public education, community outreach, networking and advocacy as its basic tools. These tools are applied in both international and domestic programs focusing on geographic areas that are globally important to sea turtle survival. For more information, visit the STC website or call (800) 678-7853.